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AUSTIN, Texas -- "News of a vaccine that can combat the type of human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes most cervical cancer is very hopeful, but also points out how prevalent and dangerous this sexually transmitted disease is," said Joe S. McIlhaney, Jr., president of The Medical Institute for Sexual Health.
"HPV is the most common viral STD. A recent major study of sexually active women ages 18 through 22 found that 50 percent were infected with HPV. It is the cause of almost all cervical dysplasia, which is the precancerous change of the cervix, and of 93 percent of all cervical cancer. It is estimated that 4100 women died as a result of cervical cancer in the United States in 2001, more than the number of women who died of AIDS that same year.
"We are hopeful that this vaccine leads to eradicating the threat of HPV but that is still several years away at best. Longer-term follow-up is still necessary to establish that the vaccine is safe and to determine how long the protection may last. And, since HPV 16 -- the type targeted by this vaccine - - is associated with only about half of all cases of cervical cancer, future vaccines will need to protect against various types of HPV which also can led to cervical cancer.
"When and if it is time for widespread utilization of this vaccine, protocols will need to be established for identifying 'at-risk' populations and vaccinate them. In the study just published, about a fifth of the 16 to 23-year-olds who were originally enrolled had to be dropped from the study because they had become infected with HPV before the study had begun.
"This is an extremely positive development -- obviously there is more work to be done. In the meantime, women must understand that there is no evidence that condoms provide any risk reduction for the sexual transmission of HPV, even with 100 percent condom use. Indeed, the only context in which one can be certain of safety from sexually transmitted diseases is a lifelong monogamous relationship."
A non-profit medical organization based in Austin, The Medical Institute was founded in 1992 to confront the worldwide epidemics of nonmarital pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection with incisive healthcare data.